Phony open source to be a 2010 trend

Phony open source to be a 2010 trend

Summary: Many claims of openness are going to be challenged next year, and my only prediction is that the identity of the attacker may sometimes surprise you.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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Open source has been the coming thing for years.

For 2010 it's the thing.

Even Microsoft is touting open source capabilities in Microsoft Office and Windows 7, notes Siteworx founder Tim McLaughlin. (This is actually a skateboard ramp design from the GOPED Message Board.)

Those claims may be easy to dismiss or laugh off, but if Microsoft is  trying to get some open source street cred then everyone else is too. And there are now thousands of programs where elements of open and closed source are mixed.

For years makers of closed source programs have sought to at least connect with open source standards, through plug-ins or APIs. More recently we have seen elements of major programs, like Adobe's PDF format, go open source. This is often followed by a flood of open source alternatives to the main package.

It goes the other way too. The whole idea of Eclipse is to give vendors an open source shared store from which proprietary programs can be built. BSD-type licenses explicitly allow closed source to be built with open, and many open source companies have debated closing some "secret source" in order to maintain cash flow.

When there's an open source "community" version and a paid "enterprise" version of the same software, what is the difference between writing a check for enterprise support and just buying a closed source license?

As open source increasingly becomes an enterprise mandate, you can expect such questions to gain new relevancy. How open do you have to be? How closed must you be?

These questions have been a feature of leading-edge open source commentary all year, as illustrated by our own Matt Asay. Once a staunch GPL advocate, he no longer reflexively condemns Microsoft's open source efforts. Baby indeed needs a new pair of shoes.

Who knows, maybe O'Reilly will do a book on this, with some strange beastie on the cover. What would an OSINO look like? (Open Source In Name Only.)

What thought leaders talk about one year often becomes common currency the next. Many claims of openness are going to be challenged next year, and my only prediction is that the identity of the attacker may sometimes surprise you.

I may have to update my famous open source incline, maybe adding a third dimension. Or even a fourth.

Topic: Open Source

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23 comments
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  • if you exclude M$ 'open source'

    the rest are legitimate projects.
    Linux Geek
    • What is "M$ open source" ?

      I have seen several MS open source projects and they were really open source. I could download and see the source. Are there special projects that are called open but are not? Could you give some examples?
      paul2011
      • Embrace, Extend, Extinguish.

        There is nothing in Microsoft's history that suggests
        that once they commit to opening up something and people
        come to rely on it, they won't close it up.

        They are a for profit company, if something open source
        they've produced takes off and they see a potential
        profit, you'd best believe they're going to close it up
        and start licensing it.
        rdiekema
        • a licence can not be retracted

          The nice thing though, if it is not explicitly mentioned in the
          licence (which would mean that you should avoid that code) as
          one of the terms, is that the source that already has been
          released as open will remain open.

          An example might be Paint.NET where further development has
          turned closed. The source before it turned closed is however
          still available and possible to further develop in a different
          direction (a fork) as for example monopaint.

          I think the only things to look out for in licences are terms
          that might contain a "trap" such as that the original licencing
          party can retroactively close the source including later
          contributions (I think this was what people feared with the
          Lucent licence) and secondly, licences that limit the use of
          the code in an unfair manner (for example some microsoft shared
          source licences explicitly demand that the code only is used
          for programs running on Windows).
          Apart from that I find licence incompatibilities a PITA and I
          think it would be better if people could just be more trusting
          and willing to compromise (I find OSI more reasonable than FSF
          in this respect). The most absurd incompatibility is that of
          GPL2only (for the linux kernel and others) and the GPL3.
          staalmannen
          • What about mixed source?

            That's the real subject here.

            It comes from two directions. Proprietary
            products adding some open source extensions.
            Open source products creating "enterprise"
            versions, and those are the ones with the secret
            sauce.

            Or, increasingly systems that are partly-open,
            and partly-closed, to protect the maker from
            people actually taking the source and using it.

            That's a trend I hear all the time from open
            source executives. And most are inclined
            favorably to it. "You have to make a living,"
            they say.
            DanaBlankenhorn
          • Licenses define possible paths...

            What is an "open source executive", anyways?

            I'll bet it is an executive at a company that either: (a) sells support for open source projects; (b) develops software with a license that is kind-of open-source, but only under the control of the company itself; or (c) competes with real open-source projects and is trying to do OSINO so as to fragment the market and developer pool.

            To protect a maker from people "taking the source and using it", and by using it, I presume this means, "packaging it and selling it in a commercial fashion", the only thing necessary is a license (not EULA, not contract) which has both restrictions, and enforceable "teeth". The GPL is an excellent example. The BSD license is an excellent example of one that does not protect against theft/repackaging, at all.

            The irony is that there is actually more protection from GPL, which requires that the source be made available, than there is from "secret sauce". For one, the "secret sauce" is incompatible with many/most "real" open source licenses.

            This means that the "open" portion of a mixed-model set-up offers less protection to the developers, too. And that cuts against the grain - developers are the life-blood of open source. The "secret sauce" only has value when it leverages a strong code base on the open side, which largely won't exist without a substantial and skilled developer pool - which won't likely accrete around such a project.

            There are examples of such attempts at projects, where the eventual outcome is one of two end states: complete opening of the code base, with GPL or GPL-like licensing; or collapse and abandonment (at least by the sponsor) of the project.

            In short, GPL projects can never have the "secret sauce" added to them, except in the very rare case where the whole project is controlled by one party - and even then, the existing code base is forever free because the GPL cannot be removed from that existing code base.
            bpdickson
    • RE: Phony open source to be a 2010 trend

      Many claims of openness are going to be challenged next year, and my only prediction is that the identity of the attacker may sometimes surprise you.<a href="http://ipadbagblog.com/"><font color="LightGrey"> k</font></a>
      zakkiromi
  • Diet Pancakes

    Marketeers love to appropriate popular phrases even if they lose all meaning when applied.

    The only salvation is a smarter public.
    jabailo1
    • I get it now

      I didn't appreciate what Mr. Blankenhorn was saying until this comment. Now I get it more fully.
      The corollary in my business, health,used by marketeers as you say, is "wellness medicine". No such thing either.
      dtbdc
    • mmm, pancakes

      What I hear increasingly is the idea that "open
      source" companies need to withhold some piece of
      vital code, some important functionality, so that
      customers will "buy" the support or spend money
      with them on something else.
      DanaBlankenhorn
    • Made with non-homogeneous batter.

      It's tricky, but you can nibble around the parts with the calories.
      Lester Young
  • Duh....

    ...I guess I'm a retard but I was under the impression that most companies (like red hat for example) were for profit companies...and intended to make money from their work by some means.
    cornpie
  • Why use open source, why develop open source, and why pay for support?

    Developers who choose "real" open source licenses that have restrictions on them (such as the GPL) do so for good reason - to protect their work.

    They want to ensure that no-one misappropriates their code and then sells it for a quick buck.

    Obviously, taking work from one developer, that is available for free already, is never likely to succeed in the "quick buck" endeavor.

    However, when collaboration between many developers occurs, the whole is much larger than the sum of the parts. Especially for long-term projects, the small incremental effort needed to add functionality to an already substantial project, demonstrates the real value of collaboration. But, this collaboration would be destroyed if the result could be stolen and sold.

    So, why would anyone pay for support? The same reason one pays for support to any vendor - for support! That the same ability, fixing bugs, is available without the support contract, is the strength, not the weakness, in open source. Those offering support (on a widely-developed project) are not a monopoly, and can never exclude competitors from the market.

    Only when a project is mostly the product of a single entity, like a commercial software maker, does the existence of a dual license matter. And again, this is where the GPL really has leverage. GPL code cannot be combined with other code without the result being GPL licensed, if it is distributed (i.e. sold or given away).

    Licenses without those restrictions, always have the impact to developers, of losing access not only to your own work, but to the whole project that you have just added value to.

    The long-term viability of an "open source" project is largely determined by risk. What is the risk that the project's code will be made unavailable? If the license controlling all of the code in the project does not make the risk zero, and alternatives where the risk is zero exist, the choice of most open-source developers should be obvious - the zero risk choice.

    There are potentials for control issues over development, among a large enough community of developers. Fortunately for all, the GPL forces that to be in the open, and the worst possible case is only that of a "fork" in the code - two projects (or more) where one used to exist, with a shared ancestry of code. No possibility of anyone taking the code and going home exists - even if the bulk of the code came from one entity. Once licensed with the GPL, the code is free (to use and modify, subject to the GPL) forever.

    Which leads to the non-obvious conclusion - why would someone choose to pay more for an open-source product than for a commercial, closed source product? Because the long-term viability of an open source product is guaranteed. Even if the support entity goes away, the code remains, and the support licensee can find another source of support or even do their own support. They never lose the ability to fix problems with code they require, or have them fixed by third parties.

    How many awesome closed-source products have died because the the companies developing them went out of business? Even excellent products have gone the way of the dodo.

    Everyone needs to be educated on the issue of licenses, because therein lies the critical difference. And this is where the media need to play a more direct role. Once educated, a user can no longer be played for a mark by marketers and sales folks.

    They way out of monopoly lock-in is the way of openness - and GPL is the standard against which open models need to be compared, by a knowledgeable public.
    bpdickson
  • A rose by any other name...

    Once you get over the religion of it, its all just code, use what waorks for you, toss out the rest.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
  • The market will decide the best model.

    If an OSS project forks into one with proprietary extensions that leave users at a disadvantage, there is nothing to prevent the open code from being used to develop a competitive fork that is entirely open. The owners of the proprietary fork exploit the situation at their own peril.
    Lester Young
    • The "market" only cares about lowest costs. It can't be bothered to think.

      n/t
      HypnoToad72
  • Open source - the joke that never stops giving

    The first fact that seems to escape most of the writers is that the most open source written by a HUGE margin is for Windows using both MS and a variety of proprietary and open source languages and environments. Just the free VB code and apps dwarf any open source software collection you'd like to mention.

    Open source only continues to have relevance because proprietary enterprise companies are supporting it. Open source obsessives in garages have no real effect on the market.

    The number and quality of open source applications is low. Once you ignore the poster children such as Open Office (once again supported by a company) you have a mish mash of bad coding, no documentation and a guarantee that every new release will break the last one. I'm willing to pay any sort of money to not have to use Gimp. Because I value other people's work and design I am willing to pay for software and that gives me access to lots of professional software.

    Open source is a great safety net and is occasionally useful if you don't have cash but are prepared to donate time (yours and your employees) to keeping it together with chewing gum and string. This is a GOOD thing. The problem comes when people want to elevate OSS to something for the most part it's not - professional.
    tonymcs1
    • Open source peed in Tony's cereal

      and Tony don't like it.

      We get the picture, Tony. Even those who may not be too smart.
      Ole Man
    • Golly

      Oh ho ho this is rich. That is hidden away in that non open code is the secret perfected code by one and only amazing perfect coder oh and be sure none of that nasty open stuff will never be hidden in there right?. That would be non-professional right?
      Altotus
    • What company supports Open Office?

      Let's see, Microsoft's product is called MS Office (I included them since they have recently announced support for standards based document formats), Sun's is StarOffice, Apple's is called NeoOffice, IBM's is Lotus Symphony, and Novell's is OpenGroupware. Once again, what company supports OpenOffice?
      As to the poster child for Open Source in industry, did you happen to forget MySQL? According to a July 2008 Market Update on Open Source Databases ( http://www.forrester.com/rb/Research/market_update_open_source_databases/q/id/46061/t/2 ), Forrester reported, "MySQL has the highest adoption and growth. MySQL continues to have the largest mindshare in the open source database market and has the highest number of paying customers for product support."
      914four